ITD research focuses on reducing wildlife collisions

ITD’s Research Program has launched two projects to tackle environmental concerns involving vehicles and wildlife. The goal is to decrease crashes involving wildlife, thereby improving highway safety and preserving wildlife.

Big game, wildlife-vehicle collision project
Big game wildlife-vehicle collisions have been a significant problem in Idaho. Between 2009 and 2011, the annual average of reported crashes involving wildlife was 1,076. The crashes resulted in fatalities, personal injuries and property damage along highways and roadways.

ITD is contracting with researchers from Utah State University in Logan, Utah, to help set priorities for efforts to reduce collisions. Researchers are developing a comprehensive database, using figures from ITD and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, (IDFG) that can identify and prioritize problem areas for big game wildlife-vehicle collisions on Idaho’s state highway system.

Using that information, researchers also will develop a methodology to determine priorities for mitigation and identify cost-effective measures. Caleb Lakey, a staff engineer in the Environmental section, manages the Big Game Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Project. It is expected to be completed by April 2014.

Barn owl study
Researchers from Boise State University and Montana State University are studying vehicle collisions with barn owls along Interstate 84 and I-86 between Boise and Pocatello.

The stretch of highway has the highest vehicle-caused mortality rate recorded for barn owls in the world, with an estimated 1,500 killed by vehicles each year.

Researchers are developing a GIS database with information about barn-owl collisions, similar to the wildlife-vehicle collision study. But the database will identify areas of high owl mortality and the characteristics of the roadways and surrounding landscape.

Researchers also will provide information about potential mitigation strategies that could be used to lower owl-collision rates.

The project will help ITD prevent declines in populations of barn owls, which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. If populations decline significantly because of roadway collisions, costly regulatory oversight could be triggered.

Practical benefits to ITD include improved motorist safety, reduced property damage and improved conservation of wildlife resources.

ITD Senior Environmental Planner Melinda Lowe manages the project that is expected to continue through November 2015.
Ultimately, ITD hopes to establish a comprehensive collection of data to prioritize specific locations where mitigation efforts are necessary. In turn, those efforts will be an important part of reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions on Idaho roadways.

Published 10-18-13